HARTFORD, CT (AP) Gov. M. Jodi Rell has issued an edict barring state employees from traveling with contractors or lobbyists to evaluate possible state projects.
Rell, who took over as governor on July 1 after Gov. John G. Rowland resigned amid legislative and federal corruption investigations, said she wants all state employees to avoid any appearance of giving any state contractor an unfair advantage in winning state business.
“What we’re really trying to say to people is use common sense,” Rell told The Associated Press. “Don’t be visiting sites before selection is made. Don’t be visiting a site before a contract is signed.”
Rell’s prohibition stems from an infamous trip that Rowland’s former co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef, took to Ohio with William Tomasso, a principal with a New Britain construction contractor in 1998. Along with a team of others, the men went to tour a juvenile detention facility.
That center was to be a model for a new juvenile facility that Connecticut officials planned to build. Tomasso was eventually awarded the $57-million contract to build the Connecticut Juvenile Training School in Middletown.
The training school is one of the key projects that federal investigators are reviewing as they look for evidence of contract steering. Federal prosecutors have told Ellef to expect an indictment this summer.
Ellef’s former deputy, Lawrence Alibozek, has already pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting cash, gold and other things of value in return for steering state contracts. He still awaits sentencing. Rowland is a subject of that investigation.
Rell said she understands that some of the site visits with contractors may be innocent. Others could be the result of poor judgment. But she wants to remind state employees that their actions could jeopardize a project.
“You could end up having to start all over again. It’s a waste of time and delay that would be so totally unnecessary,” she said.
That has been the case with a recent prison contract. In July, state prison officials announced they would rebid a $2.2-million contract awarded to a New Jersey company that gave a free trip to state officials.
Education and Health Centers of America was awarded a contract in December 2003 to operate a secured drug treatment and job training program at the Janet S. York Correctional Institution in Niantic.
The company’s parent organization, Community Corrections Corp., flew some influential state lawmakers and officials on a private plane to visit its facility in New Jersey before the state’s request for proposals. The other companies competing for the contract said they were never visited.
The president of Community Corrections gave $2,000 to Rowland’s re-election campaign in 2002, and the firm had hired a former close confident of Rowland’s as a lobbyist.
The company said in a written statement that it welcomed Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s scrutiny of the original contract and planned to compete for the new one.
Since her inauguration, Rell has tried to separate herself from Rowland, her three-time running mate. She said this directive is another way to restore faith in state government.
“We just don’t want any perceptions or irregularities,” Rell said. “We want to make sure there are standards in place and everybody has an equal opportunity.”
The directive prohibits any agency official or employee to conduct an on-site visit to assess a potential project if a registered lobbyist, contractor or any person doing business with or seeking to do business with the state is in attendance.
The prohibition applies to visits in Connecticut and out-of-state. It would not, however, affect the traditional scheduled visits that contractors make when they are looking over a project to decide if they will bid on it.